A recent email conversation with a reader made me realize that travel is a very selfish pursuit – for better or worse.
Here’s how the conversation read (with personal or irrelevant details edited out):
Reader: Maybe I could travel with you, write, do some sketching…in a year when I take an early retirement?
Me: I have no idea where I’ll be in a year; hard to commit to traveling with anybody at this point. And travel is a very individual and unique thing; the style of travel that I’ve adopted over the years is not likely the style of travel you’ll want to start out with. Once you hit the road, I think you’ll realize that following me around will cramp your style!
Reader: It seems nobody wants to get too close to anyone. We live in a virtual world now where nobody wants to form any kind of community.
Me: Forming a community that travels together is much more complicated than you might think. It becomes a nightmare of coordination – both of logistics like transportation and flights, as well as coordination of personal desires and itineraries. If you want to travel with a group of people, the best thing is to go on an organized tour.
Please keep in mind, you’re using this virtual world to connect with me. I don’t know who you are, whether we would get along, and how our travel styles would match.
You’ll find a lot of communities on the road once you go. For example, here in Peru, there are all kinds of opportunities to meet people from all over the world, as well as stationary communities of expats to tap into. It all depends on what you want. You won’t be alone on the road even if you’re traveling solo – trust me!
Reader: I know, it’s true, I did use the virtual world to connect, it’s just frustrating sometimes trying to develop community.
Travel is Personal
This reader is far from the first internet stranger to ask if they can travel with me. Quite honestly it seems a ridiculous request to me now, but if I think back to when I was selling everything I owned to travel and had no idea what was “out there in the world” for travellers, the idea of being under the wing of a seasoned traveller and experiencing the world together seemed like a really nice idea.
Less scary. More fun.
But the reality is that travel is intensely personal.
Some people like museums and art galleries. Some like hikes in the wilderness. Others like cities, cafe culture, and the party scene.
Some people like to stay up late at night, and others rise with the sun.
Some people want to travel slowly, others want to cover lots of territory.
Some people nurture location independent careers that require daily attention and work-life-travel balance, and others haven’t a care in the world to attend to.
Some people like fancy hotels and steak dinners, others like cheap hostels and plain pasta for dinner.
And there’s a lot of in-between.
It’s Hard Enough with Romantic Partners
In my experience, it has been hard enough to coordinate travel styles and lifestyle preferences with romantic partners on the road, much less virtual strangers.
My first partner (that I travelled with) and I broke up because we realized we had drastically different travel styles and life goals. The next major relationship broke apart also because we weren’t on the same page; something that became glaringly evident when we took some time to travel apart. And my last partner and I were also way too incompatible when it comes to travel expectations, desires, and budgets.
Hi. I Just Read Your Blog. Would You Like to Move In Together?
Emails like the one above smack of a perfect stranger asking to move in with me. This reader may feel like they know me from reading my site (which often includes very personal and open accounts of my life and feelings), but I know nothing about the person contacting me.
My personal style of travel includes house-sitting and living around the world, often for months at a time (which anybody who reads much of my site will figure out quickly). How am I to incorporate a stranger into that routine?
Sure, if you’d like to meet up while we’re in the same place in the world, and maybe do an excursion together, great. But to travel with me? It just doesn’t compute.
Travel is Selfish
This makes me realize that travel is selfish (at least for me it is). Travelling the outside world is also a very personal inner exploration. How I learn from and react to different scenarios is different from the next person. Where I want to go, how I want to travel, what I want to do, and where I want to stay are all very personal decisions. It’s about how I want to experience the world, and find my own little place in it.
Meeting Travel Partners Online…doesn’t work
It doesn’t mean you can’t travel with others and enjoy a sense of community on the road; my 5-day trek through the Andes was done with a few other people, who each had their own visceral experience, and as a group we bonded in travelling together.
Travellers often make fast friends in hostels and travel together for a time, and then go their separate ways when their itineraries so dictate.
I’ve made some lovely international friends here in Peru who I expect to visit in their home countries in months to come.
But I met these people first, in person. There was a personal connection, and a desire to explore some aspect of the world – or ourselves – together.
People who date online don’t usually start off with a marriage proposal as their opening line after lurking an online profile. Meeting for coffee is generally a better start.
The reader above suggested how difficult it is to develop community. I believe they are trying to do it the wrong way. You can’t develop a community virtually, made up of complete strangers, and expect everybody to get along. The more people you add to the mix, the more personal agendas there are to fulfil, the more compromises need to be made, and the more dissension there will be. I was contacted by another reader who wanted to form some sort of esoteric intentional community that involved travelling, and all I saw were logistical nightmares.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m a selfish bastard.
Or maybe it’s travel. Travel is a selfish bastard.
But please, dear readers, don’t ask me if you can travel with me. I’ll let you know when I start offering group tours or retreats if you want to learn the ABCs of travel and get to know me a bit better. But until then, please remember, travel is my life – day in and day out – it’s not an excursion, a vacation, an event, or otherwise. It’s what I do, and who I am. And no, you can’t be a part of that.
(Not at least, until we’ve had coffee).